Tony Shepherd AO MAICD, chair of the Greater Western Sydney Giants AFL team, and GWS non-executive director Rebekah Giles MAICD are advocates of diversity of thought and freely bounce ideas off each other in the boardroom — and at footy games.

    Rebekah Giles

    The first time I heard about the Giants was when my son started playing AFL and became a fan. AFL is the most exciting and popular sporting code in the country, which is a big deal for me to admit, having grown up in the NRL heartland of Western Sydney. I also love that it’s an inclusive sport in every sector of society and it’s now a truly national game for women, men and children.

    When I joined the board of GWS in July 2016, I spoke to Tony about how he champions diversity. He said, “I just do it.” And that’s exactly what he does. I’d say we have the most diverse board in the AFL across all dimensions, including diversity of thought. The benefit is that outcomes aren’t forgone conclusions; they are debated, tested and properly considered.

    From a gender perspective, this is reflected across the organisation — on-field with an AFL Women’s team and Giants netball; and off-field, where 52 per cent of non-football staff and 56 per cent of management are female. As a sporting organisation, we have a responsibility to reflect the diversity of our community and while policies, pledges and procedures are important, the best example is to live it.

    You've got to have a solid representation from recognised women on the board to make it effective.

    Tony wants to ensure we have a family-friendly club. For me, that’s really important as a member, a director and a single mum with two kids. As a club, we know our future is in families.

    He and I have a lot of interests in common: we love other sports and the arts; and we both share a real interest in the growth of Western Sydney. He’s not the sort of chair who makes a decision and pays lip service to everybody. He runs a genuinely collaborative board and relies on each of us for our particular expertise and skill sets.

    Bouncing ideas off Tony and getting inside his head on a range of issues has been the best form of board induction and mentoring possible. Even though he is a senior and experienced chair, I always feel completely free to raise any issue. Tony is incredibly supportive and I never feel embarrassed asking questions.

    We’re no longer in startup mode. As a board, we’re looking for sustainable growth across membership, non-football revenue, community engagement and attendance. Of course, I would be lying if I didn’t also say that we also want our first AFL Premiership flag!

    Tony Shepherd

    Philosophically, I love the striving for goals and teamwork of sport. And I’ve always loved AFL — although, unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at it. In 2009, when Andrew Demetriou, the [then] AFL CEO, approached me to be the inaugural chair of GWS — to set up the club and get it going — it didn’t take a lot of persuasion.

    At the start it was all-consuming. Now we’ve built a first-class board by recruiting top executives, such as Rebekah, so the load is shared a lot more. I’m keen on gender balance, as well. You’ve got to have solid representation from recognised women on a board to make it effective.

    Rebekah’s training in law, in particular the sports and media aspects of law, adds considerably to the knowledge base of the club. She is a great director because she asks a lot of questions and always makes time to help when we have a public relations, contract or media issue. She brings all of her intellectual capacity, knowledge and experience to bear on any question and invariably comes up with the right approach.

    The role of the board in a challenging situation is to be calm, support management and put things into perspective, drawing on life experience. When dealing with any issues, do it in a way consistent with your values and culture — but don’t micromanage.

    It doesn’t matter whether it’s BHP or the GWS Giants, it’s the same rule every time: get a balance between the oversight role of the board and let the management team get on with the job.

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